Sidney Crosby might be creating an intriguing subplot for the Winter Classic: He’s riding one of the NHL’s longest scoring streaks in the past 20 seasons.
Crosby scored twice during a four-point night to extend his scoring streak to 25 games, and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their final home game before the New Years Day’s outdoor game by beating the Atlanta Thrashers, 6-3, on Tuesday.
Crosby twice answered Thrashers goals by scoring in the first period, then set up Chris Kunitz’s goal 9 seconds into the third period and another by Matt Cooke. Craig Adams also scored short-handed for Pittsburgh, which has won 16 of 19.
Crosby will try to extend his streak against the New York Islanders on Wednesday night, Pittsburgh’s final game before the Classic. The only longer streak over the last two decades was Mats Sundin’s 30-game run for Quebec in 1992-93.
”It’s nice when you’re going well and the puck’s going in,” Crosby said. ”You just try to focus on your play, even when they’re coming. But I don’t think you think too much about that (streak).”
The Penguins captain, peaking just as the NHL’s midseason outdoor game against Washington approaches on Saturday, continues to torment the Thrashers.
Atlanta has lost its past nine in Pittsburgh, and no wonder. Crosby has six goals and four assists in three games against Atlanta this season, including his first natural hat trick during a 3-2 victory in Pittsburgh on Dec. 2.
Crosby, the NHL scoring leader with 65 points to Steven Stamkos’ 52 for Tampa Bay, has 32 goals and 33 assists. During the streak, he has 26 goals and 23 assists, and he has at least one goal in five consecutive games.
Wayne Gretzky (1990-91), Bryan Trottier (1981-82), Brett Hull (1991-92) and Bernie Nicholls (1984-85) also had 25-game streaks. The NHL record is Gretzky’s 51-game run in 1983-84, during a more wide-open era in which he averaged three points per game during his streak. Mario Lemieux set the Penguins record with a 46-game streak in 1989-90.
”He’s a special player; it doesn’t take much for him to get on the board,” Atlanta forward Andrew Ladd said of Crosby. ”It seems he gets a little bit of space and then, bang, it’s in the back of your net.”
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 31 of 34 shots despite allowing Evander Kane’s 12th of the season only 46 seconds into the game. Crosby tied it by scoring on a power play midway through the period on a giveback pass from Kris Letang.
Dustin Byfuglien’s power-play goal on a slap shot from the right point less than five minutes later restored Atlanta’s lead, but Crosby answered again with a Lemieux-like goal with 1:26 left in the period.
”Our habits are to get to the net and create havoc there, but if you have the opportunity to make plays, you make them,” Crosby said.
Crosby took Alex Goligoski’s lead pass, then split two defenders before lifting a shot past Ondrej Pavelec and under the crossbar.
”That was very poorly played on our part,” Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay said. ”You would expect the defensemen would know that No. 87 is pretty good.”
Pavelec, 0-7 in his career against Pittsburgh, gave up goals on six of 36 shots.
Adams gave Pittsburgh the lead for good at 3-2 with Atlanta on the power play during the second period. Cooke gained control of the puck behind the net and threw it in front for Adams’ second goal in two seasons — both this season and both short-handed.
”We came out determined to play the right way (in the period) and get on them, and we were able to take the lead,” Cooke said.
Kunitz’s goal came immediately after Pittsburgh won the faceoff to start the third period, and Crosby carried the puck into the Atlanta zone. The fastest goal in Penguins history to start a third period was 11 seconds by Martin Straka on Oct. 18, 2003.
Cooke redirected Crosby’s shot from just inside the blue line late in the third for his eighth of the season.
NOTES: Crosby has 13 goals in his last eight home games. … The Penguins have accumulated 39 points during Crosby’s streak, going 19-5-1, and have won 10 of 11 at home. … Atlanta is 2-3-3 since winning 10 of 12. … Pittsburgh is 9-1 against Southeast Division teams.